James Thurber: Mr. Hoover or Mr. Coolidge?

From the venerable pages of The New Yorker, January 30, 1932 (p. 13), here’s a little gem of a column by the incomparable James Thurber.

Purported (and subtitled) to be “a resumé of the letters to the editor which will appear in the “Herald Tribune” during the next few months, compiled so that you won’t have to read them all,” the piece made fun of the anticipated hankering of some Republicans and voters a Coolidge candidacy (something Coolidge himself had ruled out), and went like this:

To the New York Herald Tribune: I endorse most emphatically the letter of Mr. George W. Kent entitled “Draft Calvin Coolidge.” If we could all know for certain that Mr. Coolidge would be a candidate for the Presidency this year, confidence would be immediately restored and business would start on the upgrade. Coolidge for President and Prosperity would give us all new courage and would put an end to the depression. Unless the Republican Party nominates Mr. Coolidge it is doomed to a disastrous defeat next November. Mr. Hoover cannot possibly be re-elected. All right-minded people want Coolidge and Prosperity. (signed) Disgusted Republican, New York, Jan. 30, 1932

To the New York Herald Tribune: I say three cheers for Discouraged Republican and for Mr. George W. Kent, whose letter I missed but who seems to have the right idea also. The election of Hoover would inspire the country with new hope, while the re-election of Coolidge would only add to the depression. Count me in. (signed) J. H. PHIPPS [Ed. Note: Mr. Phipps seems to have confused the names of Mr. Hoover and Mr. Coolidge.]

More after the cut:To the New York Herald Tribune: I wish to take exception to your statement that Mr. J. H. Phipps confused Hoover and Coolidge in his letter to you. Mr. Hoover has had all the odds against him and certainly has done as well as Mr. Coolidge could, under the circumstances. Mr. Coolidge was certainly fortunate to have got out of office when he did. The country is indeed lucky that Al Smith was not elected for then conditions would be even worse than they are now. I say give Hoover another chance and he will pull us out of the depression. (signed) Optimistic Republican, New York, Feb. 12, 1932

To the New York Herald Tribune: Out here in Montana we have got a great deal of amusement and quite a “kick” out of the way everybody in New York seems to know how to end the depression by electing Coolidge again. The old adage “You may break and shatter the vase if you will, but the fragrance of roses will hang ’round it still” seems to be what you are trying to accomplish for Coolidge. I say that a broken vase, no matterhow serviceable it once was, is no longer capable of holding flowers, for conditions change and problems change with them. Certainly New York with its vice and corruption is not the place for a decision to be made as to who will bring us Prosperity. It is a wonder you do not suggest your governor, Teddy Roosevelt, for President. If he had tended to his business as governor of Hawaii, as his father before him would have, we wouldn’t have all that trouble down there. Which also proves the old adage that God never intended any nation to be taken away from its rightful owners, the natives. America was taken from the Indians and Hawaii was stolen from the Lepers, and both of them are suffering as Providence ordains, which is not a cross that can be lifted by any one man, be he Coolidge or Hoover. The Netherlands and Belgium and other places which still belong to the natives are examples of happy countries.  When Diamond Jimmy Walker was shot in Albany it should certainly have been a lesson to you New Yorkers that a mayor who gallivants around and is even barred from Europe is bound to come to no good end, and certainly could never be elected President, even if he had lived. This is the way we feel “Out Where the West Begins.” (signed) Mrs. Sarah L. McAfee, Butte, Mont., March 3, 1932.

To the New York Herald Tribune: To Mr. John Carpenter’s letter stating that there is not to be found in this broad land a more capable man than Mr. Hoover, I reply that Mr. Hoover is a capable and honest man but that he is not fitted for the position he is occupying. I agree with your readers who believe that Mr. Coolidge should be drafted. If he were President now, this depression would never have occurred. Of course now that it exists, it is going to be hard for him to change conditions single-handed, like the doctor-missionary who went among a wild tribe in Africa and told the chied he could cure him, although the medicine man danced around rattling tiger’s teeth and all painted up and said if he tried to cure the chief it would interfere with their gods and the chied would die, resulting in a horrible death for the doctor as well. The doctor, however, knowing the efficacy of his remedies against the fol-de-rol of the medicine men, went on and cured the chief, who later, however, fell ill again when the doctor’s remedies were exhausted. This, it seems to me, as great a believer in Coolidge as I am, is likely to happen now that the country has “fallen ill” and is used to the prating of medicine men instead of Coolidge. It is worth taking a chance, however, to find out.

Herbert Hoover is a great engineer and he should be released from burdens he doesn’t understand in order to go back to his real work. Anybody who built the great wall of China, to name only one of his achievements, should not be President of this country. (signed) C. O. Donham, White Plains, N.Y., March 29,1932.

-James Thurber

(all content (c) The New Yorker magazine )

2 thoughts on “James Thurber: Mr. Hoover or Mr. Coolidge?

  1. Mr. Thurber has often delighted, in the past, but not so much here. His crediting Hoover with the Great Wall in China is “a good one” but the rest is thin. Cal’s last public address was in New York at Madison Square Garden in an attempt to get Mr. Hoover another term. After the speech a lady said to him: “Oh, Mr. Coolidge! If we could only vote for you it would be the end of our horrible Depression.” Coolidge replied: “It would be the beginning of mine.”

    • Jim, I’m afraid you’re right. This is not Thurber at his best. It is good for a chuckle here and there, as he lampoons the sometimes muddled arguments of letters-to-the-editor writers, but pretty thin overall. Interestingly, the power transfer from Coolidge to Hoover in 1929 was to be the last time a president handed over the reins to an elected successor from his own party (not counting situations where the death of the president prompted the succession) until Ronald Reagan threw George H.W. Bush the keys to the White House in 1989. Hoover probably got elected pretty much on Coolidge’s coattails, much as Bush sr. did 60 years later on Reagan’s.

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